Chasing River
Page 18

 K.A. Tucker

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“You had words with him . . . Exactly how many ‘words’ did it take to drag out his remorse?”
That smirk reappears. “Are you angry with me?”
“No . . .” I’m not entirely sure what I am. I’ve never been a fan of violence, of guys pounding on each other. I see the ugly results of it at work all the time. At home, Alex’s face is a constant reminder. But right now, it’s making River all the more attractive to me. He must have watched the security tapes as soon as his brother told him—how did he have time for that?—and gone through the trash can to find it. “You could have kept the money—you know that, right? And just blamed the thief.”
“But then that would make me a thief, wouldn’t it?” A curious look flickers across his face that I can’t read. “Is that what you think of me?”
“No, I didn’t mean . . . A lot of regular people would have pocketed it.”
“I guess I’m not regular people then.”
You most certainly are not. I study his knuckles again—red and swollen. “You’re not going to get into trouble, are you?”
“Trouble?” He frowns. “Trouble with who?”
“I don’t know. With the police. With your boss?” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the cops in the parking lot outside Roadside after a fight broke out back home. All it takes is one call from the bartender.
But, in this case, that’s River.
A soft chuckle escapes him. Nothing about his face or his stance says he’s sorry for whatever he did. He’s definitely not afraid. Is he afraid of anything?
Yes, he is, I remind myself. He’s afraid of whoever set that bomb.
“Benoit isn’t going to go to the gardai because he stole your wallet. And Ma and Da aren’t gonna fire their son for giving someone what they were owed.”
Ma and Da . . . “Your parents own the bar?”
“They do. Rowen and I keep it going for them.”
Huh. “River Delaney?”
He nods. Somehow that piece of news makes him working as a bartender in a dive bar different. Like, if I were to tell my friends about him, and they asked what he did, my answer wouldn’t be, “He’s a bartender.” It would be, “He runs his family’s pub.” It sounds better in my head. I know it would sound better to the Sheriff’s ears. Not a lot better, but still . . .
With a slow, calming exhale, I turn back to study the seven statues—six people and one dog—looming before me again, their faces gaunt, their lanky bronze forms in tattered, dirty clothes. It took half an hour for me to walk here from the house, but it was easy enough to find. “So you live nearby?”
“Ten-minute drive.”
I frown. “Why’d you pick this place to meet, then?”
River takes a sip of his coffee and I inhale the clean, crisp smell of his soap with his movement. I’m guessing he jumped out of the shower, threw on some clothes, and came here. Such a difference between guys and girls—I primped for over an hour. Basically, since the second I knew I would see River today. I even curled my hair, something I only normally do now when I’m going out to a bar.
“A million Irish lives were lost to a great famine in the 1840s. It’s one of the most critical events in our country’s history, and this monument was erected to remind us of it. Do you know how many times I see a tourist walk past these statues, or stop to take a picture of themselves next to one, and I wish they had a bleeding idea what it stands for?”
Bleeding. That seems to be a popular word around here. My cab driver from the airport used it a lot. “Are you calling me an ignorant tourist?”
He smiles. “Ireland is about more than Temple Bar and kissing stones.”
Ugh. That was on my list. He must have read it. “So you want to make sure I know what this monument stands for?” My gaze follows him as he strolls around each weathered statue, his shoulders broad and strong, his posture straight and proud.
He pauses to peer down at the homely dog, immortalized. “That. And I wanted to make sure you don’t spend the rest of your trip in hiding, afraid of being blown up or robbed.” He wanders back toward me with a soft smile, his gaze resting on my still-healing lip for a long moment before meeting my eyes again. “How are you?”
I shrug, trying to brush his worries off. “I’ll have memories to bring home with me.”
His gaze drifts over the River Liffey, which flows calmly next to us as he sips his coffee. I’m desperate to know what’s going on inside that head of his. “How long are you here for?”
“Eight more days.”
A drop catches his long lashes. It’s going to start raining again any minute. “Staying with friends?”
“House-sitting for someone.”
He nods slowly and silence hangs, prompting me to talk. “Now that I have my license back, I’m going to do a bunch of day trips, out to Cork and Galway. Maybe do some of those ignorant tourist tours.” Unlike my trek across Canada, which was planned down to the day, with little downtime, I’m glad I decided to do Ireland differently. Mostly spur-of-the-moment and unplanned. Very unlike me.
He chuckles. “Sounds grand.”
I hesitate bringing the bombing up, but since he kind of already did . . . “How are you?” He frowns slightly, as if confused, forcing me to elaborate. “I saw the blood on your back when you ran.” I assume he didn’t go to a hospital, since the police would have been scouring emergency rooms. Thanks to me warning them to.
Understanding flickers in his eyes. “Never been better.” Downing the rest of his coffee, River wanders over to a nearby trash can to stuff the cup in. “I need to run now.”
Already? He obviously made a special trip this way and he’s been here all of five minutes, if that. I struggle to keep the disappointment from my face. Why not just let me come to the bar and pick my wallet up, then? Unless . . . maybe he didn’t want me lingering there after all. I clear my throat to ensure my voice is light as I tease, “I thought you were here to teach me about Irish history?”
A playful smirk curls his lips. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to see my parents today, before work. But we have fantastic museums, with tours for your kind.”
Is this really it, then? Are we saying goodbye already? I open my mouth to thank him yet again, but falter, not sure that the simple words are enough anymore. Not for me, anyway. Taking a deep breath, I close the small gap between us and reach out, wrapping my arms around River’s neck, coffee cup and all. Just tight enough to feel his chest against mine. His body stiffens under my touch for just a moment, and then his arms rope around my waist, squeezing me into a tight embrace, until I can feel his heartbeat and I’m resting my head against his shoulder like we’ve known each other for years. The lightest caress of his breath against my neck sends shivers through my body.
He holds me like this for five wonderful seconds and then his body goes lax, and he pulls away. With a deep exhale, he turns and begins walking away slowly, his feet dragging. Not uttering a single word.
“The famine was caused by a potato blight!” I blurt out after him. It’s the first thing that comes to mind. I’m ready to say anything to make him stop.